Stories Shape Us

In the first reading from Exodus we hear of Moses, the former prince of Egypt who grew up in privilege killed an Egyptian overseer who was mistreating a Hebrew slave and was forced to flee Egypt is out in the wilds tending his Father in laws flock. He goes aside from the flock to see a bush that was aflame but was not being consumed by the fire. Instead of merely observing this strange sight as he anticipated he is called by God. (I think it is important for us to realize that Moses, St. Paul and many others received a call from God while at work.) First Moses was told to remove his shoes for he was on Holy Ground. (Wherever God is present is Holy Ground..) Then God tells Moses he knows of the plight of the Hebrew people… he already knows Moses story good & bad and the Hebrew people’s story…the good and the bad…and our as well. God gives Moses a task. And we have a task as well given to us at baptism – telling our story, sharing our challenges and triumphs. Sharing our trust that God is present in our stories and in our life

In the Psalm we recognize we are all seekers – but too often we do not understand what it is we are seeking. We have a God shaped hole within us and try to fill it with things, with people, with substances, with transient experiences – but nothing fills a God shaped void – except God. But it is hard to surrender our independence to allow God to fill that void. We can’t control God and are afraid of God controlling us…

In the next passage from Corinthians Paul speaks about the Exodus of the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt and their many years in the wilderness. He recalls “our ancestors” were all under the cloud and passed through the sea… the manna and the water from the rock… they shared these experiences of God’s care for the people. YET… he recalls many were struck down in the wilderness because they were idolaters… worshipping false Gods… In our culture we do not have graven idols as such – and yet we have many false Gods that set themselves up as being as or more important than our faith. Our job, success, power wealth, the RIGHT belief, the expectations of others, even the attraction of activities we enjoy, and the Oh so many activities from which we can choose on a Sunday morning… SO many other Gods we can choose to serve.

In the Gospel today we have questions about life that seem contemporary. People tell about bad stuff that they hear has happened.. Galileans killed by Pilate at the temple, their “blood mingled with their sacrifices”. Stories that may or may not be true but which stir up righteous anger against Pilate and the Romans… Jesus takes on the question we still have trouble with today… why evil happens. He dismisses the idea that bad things happen to people because they are bad or because God is testing them… You too, he tells them can have this befall you – so you need to live as if each day is your last day. Do not put off turning to God for another day.

In these stories the people present to Jesus we may also be dealing with a bit of political hyperbole. The same kind of hyperbole we see in the current politcal campaign.. requiring fact checkers to let us know where the truth is being presented and who is shading the truth or telling lies. Jesus in response asks about the Galileans who were killed when the tower fell… a construction accident the Romans had no hand in. By taking this tack Jesus confronts those described in a later passage of Luke as those “who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt.”. Jesus continually takes our preference to look at the lives, foibles and sins of others and tells us to focus it on our own life, our own failings, and our own need to fill that God shaped hole in our life.

The story of the fig tree illustrates his point. The fig tree is not fulfilling its purpose and its promise. The owner wants to cut it down – but the gardener is more patient, willing to work with it, to let it have the time it needs to become fruitful and achieve its purpose. The story speaks of God’s patience with us, of God working within us to nurture us and encourage us to bring forth fruit, the seeds of which God has planted in our life.

We live in a day when so many of the stories we hear told are angry stories about “them”; about what he or she has said, or what they have done, about atrocities implied or committed. Stories focusing us on the failings and wrongs of others, making us feel righteous and angry. We look to blame others – be it religious extremists; social policy; corporations, elected leaders, the judiciary, or the current political culture of ideology mattering more than governance.

Jesus on hearing these kinds of stories in his day brought the discussion literally back to earth by talking about a tree that hadn’t produced fruit, about digging and enriching the soil with manure. He in essence says “Ask yourself if you are like this tree. Are your bearing fruit or are you just taking up space?” If the later there is time, God will wait but you don’t have forever… It is time to get on with the task at hand, the purpose only you can fulfill

The stories we listen to and the stories we tell are important one. These stories shape us and shape how we live. Stories focus our attention and mold our actions.

When we recognize that God is present as a golden thread through the stories we tell we recognize that we too are on Holy Ground, and are being given the task of continuing to dig around our roots and the roots of other to prepare the ground and to nurture the new shoots of faith to become fruitful and produce the fruits of the God so that the seeds of God’s reign continue to be spread and planted.

Don

About don

The Rev Don Hill is an Episcopal priest, rail fan and writer. He and his wife the Rev. Dr. Nancy Woodworth-Hill are currently Co-Pastors of St Paul's Episcopal Church, Jeffersonville IN, in the Diocese of Indianapolis. They also work as parish consultants in Appreciative Inquiry, strategic planning and spirituality development for parishes and vestries.
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